Sourdough Challah

sourdough challah six strand

Finding a solid sourdough challah recipe has been on my bread baking list for awhile. While I have a sourdough enriched sandwich bread recipe that I love, the appeal of challah to me is that it’s dairy free and the dough is easy to shape into beautiful braids — perfect for holiday celebrations! Leftover challah also makes excellent French toast, bread pudding, bostock…basically, I’m never sad to have a few extra slices!

After trying a few different recipes/methods, I’ve finally landed on one I like. The dough handles beautifully; and so long as you use fresh starter, there is barely, if any, a hint of sourdough tang. The formula is based on Maggie Glezer’s sourdough challah recipe, with a few adaptations to the flour mix and fermentation times. I’ve also been experimenting with add-ins and substitutions, so stay tuned for more challah-based recipes soon!

pumpkin challah
A few notes:
  • As with all bread recipes, proper fermentation is key to success. Although I’ve provided general timings which work in my kitchen, keep in mind they may vary greatly depending on the temperature of your kitchen and the strength of your starter. I’ve tried to provide visual cues to help you along — as they say, watch the dough and not the clock!
  • The original recipe called for all bread dough, but I prefer a mix of bread, all purpose, and whole grain for a balance of softness, chew, and flavor.
  • There are many ways to shape challah; I particularly like the 6-strand braid, 4-strand braid, and round challah. For best results, weigh out the dough into even portions for the most even-looking braid.
  • To make pumpkin challah, replace the 60g warm water in the final dough ingredients with 75g pumpkin puree. I like to use maple syrup as the sweetener in this variation. Pumpkin provides more color than flavor in this variation (see photo below), though for extra “pumpkin spice” you can spread the filling from this sourdough cinnamon raisin bread on the rolled out dough before shaping the dough into logs (replace the cinnamon with pumpkin spice). Make sure to firmly seal the seam and ends or liquefied sugar will leak out of the braid!
  • Like other enriched sourdough recipes, this recipe takes time — though most of it is hands-off. I like to break the work into the following 3-day schedule:
    • Day 1, right before bedtime: prepare stiff levain.
    • Day 2, morning: mix dough and ferment until doubled. Refrigerate dough once doubled.
    • Day 2, right before bedtime: shape challah and let proof at room temperature overnight.
    • Day 3, first thing in the morning: bake challah.
    • Note: If you want to mix and bake all in one day, you could shape and proof the dough right after the dough has doubled. Proof time will likely be a little shorter since the dough doesn’t have to warm back up to room temperature. I personally prefer the above schedule because I find cold dough easier to shape and I like having the bread freshly baked in the morning.
sourdough pumpkin challah cut

Sourdough Challah

Makes one large loaf (or two smaller loaves, or many buns) | Adapted from Maggie Glezer via The Fresh Loaf


For the stiff levain:
  • 40g very active, fully fermented 100% hydration sourdough starter, refreshed 8 to 12 hours earlier
  • 52g warm water
  • 108g bread flour

Mix all ingredients together to form a stiff dough. Allow to ferment at room temperature for 8-12 hours, or until ripe (it should triple in volume).

For final dough:
  • 60g warm water
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 for glazing
  • 10g fine sea salt
  • 55g olive oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 65g honey or maple syrup
  • 250g bread flour
  • 100g AP flour
  • 50g whole grain flour
  • All of the levain
  • Sesame / poppy seeds or pearl sugar, for garnish (optional)


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, whisk together all ingredients from water through honey/maple syrup until combined.
  2. Add the flour and levain (torn into several pieces to make it easier to incorporate). Use a silicone spatula or your hands to mix until ingredients are roughly combined.
  3. Mix the dough on a low-medium speed (3 or 4 on a KitchenAid mixer) until smooth, about 5 minutes. You can also do this by hand, which should take 8-10 minutes. The dough should be on the firm side but still easy to knead. If your dough is overly sticky and doesn’t hold together after kneading, add additional bread flour 1 tbsp at a time until the dough holds together. Avoid adding too much flour as this may make your loaf dry and overly dense.
  4. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled container. Ferment at warm room temperature until doubled. This took me about 4 hours, but will depend on the temperature of your kitchen and strength of your starter.
  5. Fold the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 12.
  6. When you are ready to shape, remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide equally into the number of pieces desired on a lightly floured surface. (I like to do 6 pieces for a 6-strand braid or 4 for a round challah.) Loosely round, then cover and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Also, whisk the remaining egg with a pinch of salt for the egg wash.
  7. Working one at a time, roll each piece into a thin sheet (about 1/8″ thick) — the shape isn’t important, but aim for an even thickness. Roll up tightly like a jelly roll, pinching the seams and ends to seal. Repeat with other pieces.
  8. Roll each piece into ropes of even lengths (I aim for 24-26″), tapering the ends. Braid as desired (see notes above).
  9. Transfer shaped loaf to the prepared baking sheet. Brush the entire surface with a coat of egg wash, then cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap. Cover and refrigerate the remaining egg wash; you will need it later.
  10. Allow the loaf to proof at room temperature until at least doubled and very puffy (but still defined). This takes me 8-10 hours at cool room temperature. About half an hour to 45 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Right after preheating the oven, uncover the loaf and brush with another coat of egg wash.
  11. When the oven is ready, brush the loaf with a final coat of egg wash. Sprinkle with sesame/poppy seeds or pearl sugar, if desired.
  12. Bake for 35-45 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking, or until the top is well browned and the loaf registers 200F. (Tent with foil if the loaf is browning too quickly). Cool on a wire rack before slicing.

64 thoughts on “Sourdough Challah

  1. Hi Ruth, this recipe looks great! A quick question–any thoughts on what’ll happen if I do a cold proof longer than 12 hours? Like maybe even closer to 20? I’m dying to try this recipe but want to fit it into my work schedule. Thanks!!

    1. Hi Caryn! If you mean bulk fermentation (before shaping), I’m cautiously optimistic that you could refrigerate it for 20 hours. I would do the final proof at room temperature, though. I haven’t had much success cold proofing enriched doughs in general!

      1. I had something come up the day I was supposed to shape and ended up leaving it in the fridge about 36 hours. The loaf was a bit tougher than usual, but still very good!

    1. I just made this, and replaced eggs with about 6 oz of aquafaba. I think maybe I needed to add a bit more flour because my braid did not stay too defined after proofing and baking, but the texture and taste overall was good.

  2. hi, I just put up the dough at it appears very sticky and on the looser side, a very different viscosity than a basic challah dough recipe (this is my first time making sourdough challah). Is that normal?

    1. Hi Sarah, another Sarah here 🙂

      I’ve done this recipe 5+ times now, and find I have to add significantly more flour (approx 70g +) to stop it being so sticky, and help keep it’s shape further down the line, (rather than merging into one giant sausage after braiding)…

      I swear I’m keeping all the other quantities the same, but it came up sticky every time and I then had trouble with shaping. More flour With generous proofing times has definitely been successful for me.

      You might find the same?

      1. Hi Sarah, just wondering what brand and kind of flour you are using. It’s normal for some deviation with flour amounts depending on the protein levels of the flour and climate but 70+ grams feels like quite a lot. Also what size eggs are you using?

        1. I had the same exact issue – used all the right amounts and types of flour…large eggs like the recipe calls for, etc. Ended up having to use more flour, and it still wasn’t too stiff, but I didn’t want to over-flour it, so hoping proofing helps.

          1. Hi! What brand of flours are you using? This always ends up being a fairly stiff dough for me, but each brand of flour absorbs moisture differently (and the weather can play a part as well).

      2. I had the same experience – final dough, following the instructions, led to a sticky dough and I added about 70g of white bread flour. I’ve had a similar experience when making sourdough hamburger buns – another egg-enriched dough.

        I’m using Small Valley Milling WW and white bread flour, as well as King Arthur AP flour. Also using labeled large eggs. I’ll ferment for 4-5 hours in my warm (75+ F kitchen) and will add soaked raisins after folding and before shaping. Thank you for the wonderful recipe!

        1. Thank you — so glad you enjoyed the bread! I’ve updated the instructions to add additional flour if needed; I think it really comes down to everyone’s particular flour and egg size.

      3. The same happens to me. I’ve tried other sourdough challahs that had the same amount of flour but only two eggs. Next time I will try this with 2 eggs but for now I’ve been adding the extra flour

  3. incredible bread. I tried it today and the Crumb was amazing and i could still taste the sou/rness of my Starter. final proof only took about 3.5 hours as I live in Singapore. BONUS! look forward to trying your other recipes

    1. Ruth, for step 5) fold dough ?? U mean stretch n fold ? If yes, just 1 stretch n fold b4 I put in fridge . After fold, put in fridge 2-12hrs
      Thanks 🙂

  4. I would like to make this recipe but what type of flour is the “100g AP flour”.
    Thank you very much, for all the recipes you have on Instagram.

  5. Hi!
    Have you ever tried doubling the recipe?
    Also, my local stores are out of bread flour, but I have AP flour. Can I use only AP flour?

    1. I haven’t doubled the recipe, but it should work in theory. I think all AP would work in this recipe, though you may not get as high a rise. You may want to hold back a 1-2 Tbsp of water to start.

  6. Ruth, do you think if I only use unbleached all purpose flour, and no bread flour at all, will it work well? There is such a shortage of flour right now, and all I can get is all purpose flour, or whole wheat, or spelt – just absolutely no bread flour.

    1. I’m cautiously optimistic that all AP would work in this recipe, though you may not get as high a rise. You may want to hold back a 1-2 Tbsp of water to start. If you try it, please report back!

    2. Have you tried it yet, Lisa? Based on our designated shopper’s success this morning, I’ll be giving it a go!

      Ruth – It will also be AP flour for the Stiff Levain – any adjustment there?


  7. In the end, I located some bread flour so I used that where asked for in the recipe. The loaf turned out beautifully. My only change would be that I think the recipe asked for too much salt. I would cut that down. I put some spelt in for the whole grain option, and that was a nice addition. It makes a very large challah.

  8. All I had was whole wheat flour but I tried it anyways and it turned out amazing! All the time that went into it definitely paid off.

  9. Why roll out dough pieces flat and then roll them up into logs rather than just rolling dough pieces into logs? I’m looking forward to making this but wondering if this step is crucial or if I can save myself the work. Thanks!

    1. It makes for a more even crumb as it degasses the dough more thoroughly and lets you shape each strand more tightly. It’s not essential, but I do think it helps make a prettier loaf in the end.

      1. I’ve had bubbles in my challah before, so having this roll out and roll up technique was a great tip. I made it as directed, but it barely rose despite a first rise of over 5 hours and final proof of 10 hours, both at room temperature – about 8 hours in the fridge in between. The dough was pretty dense, a little sticky but didn’t seem overly wet and I didn’t want to dry it out with extra flour. I’m glad I didn’t since the bread is on the dry side. It did rise in the oven, but lost a lot of definition over the final proof. I know that a dryer dough can help maintain definition, but like I said – the bread was already on the dry side. I’m not sure what went wrong here. The levain more than tripled in size, and another bread I made the same day from the same starter turned out beautifully. I might give this another shot, or might wait and hope I find yeast again somewhere.

        1. It sounds like the dough needed a warmer environment. It really should double during the first rise, otherwise the bread will end up dense.

  10. To add sweet potato to this recipe, should I follow what you said about adding pumpkin? Or can I add a little more mashed potato because potato is drier than pumpkin is? I made this challah without adding anything last week and it was my best sourdough challah yet! (I have been trying many different recipes and was delighted to find that this one worked beautifully) The only issue is that during the overnight rise before baking, my braids always get a little flat. Is there a way to combat this?

    1. Hi Penny, I’ve never added sweet potato to this recipe so I can’t give you a definitive answer. I would say to add the same amount of potato to start and perhaps be prepared to add more liquid if the dough feels too dry. As for the braids flattening, it could be that the dough is a little overproofed or the braiding is too tight (which causes the strands to grow into each other and loose their definition). If your kitchen is quite warm it’s probably overproofing, due to the long rise. I’d try finding a cooler spot or checking on it a bit sooner. Hope that helps!

  11. Hello! I’d like to try this with butter instead of oil – any tips or warnings? Thank you! I already made it once with OO, it was amazing even made by this novice!

    1. Hi! I haven’t tried it with butter, but I would probably knead in room-temperature butter after mixing the other ingredients together for a few minutes. Then keep mixing until the dough is strong and smooth. This would definitely be easier using a dough hook on a stand mixer, rather than by hand. Hope this helps!

    1. It’ll be baked thoroughly at a high temp so I personally don’t have any qualms, but you can just lightly mist with oil if you prefer.

  12. Hi Ruth,

    This recipe looks amazing, but, alas, unfortunately, I was diagnosed with celiac disease two years ago and have not had challah since 🙁

    Any chance you have experimented with gluten free flours to make this loaf? I have a thriving gluten free sourdough starter and have successfully made other gf loaves of bread with it, but just haven’t found a gluten free sourdough challah recipe so was hoping to adapt yours to make a gf sourdough challah 🙂

    Please let me know if you have any advice!

    1. Hi Rebekah,
      I don’t do much gluten-free baking so I’m afraid I don’t have any guidance for you! You might check to see if Aran Goyoaga (from Cannelle et Vanille) has any advice — she bakes a lot of GF sourdough!

  13. Hello! I’m new (since early June) to sourdough starter and bread baking. I’ve been using my discard for cake (chocolate cake and it’s to die for), pancakes, waffles, and biscuits. I feel ready to tackle some bread. And I did. Another challah recipe. Epic fail. lol Seriously epic. Not sure if I added too much flour during hand-kneading or missed the peak of my starter or another mystery issue. Anyhow, I’m looking around to try another. I’ve been coming across the term “stiff levain” and looked it up. If I understand it correctly, it’s just a very dry/stiff version of a starter that seems to need to be reconstituted/diluted with water. Is that at least sort of correct? I’ve been using a very wet starter and most of the recipes I’ve used call for X grams or cup of starter–never the reference to levain. So, if I were to try to use your recipe with my starter….how would I go about that? Dazed and confused….:-) I’m learning so much, but then there are moments I feel overwhelmed by all of the information and the varying techniques while at the same time fascinated by those same variations. Thank you for any insights.

    1. Hi there, glad to hear you’ve started the bread baking journey! Stiff levain or starter refers to a starter that is more flour than water. A liquid levain or starter is typically equal parts flour and water. The words levain and starter are often used interchangeably, but I personally use the word “levain” when I refer to a specific build of my starter for the loaf about to be mixed/baked. I also keep a liquid starter, so the instructions for this recipe explain how to create the stiff levain using your ripe liquid starter. I like to use a stiff levain build for enriched sourdough breads because in my experience, a stiff starter is helpful in keeping the dough strong during the long fermentation process (the enrichments, in this case eggs and oil, slow down fermentation and gluten development).

      Hope that makes sense! If you haven’t yet gotten a scale, I highly recommend getting one and using the weight measurements for your loaves for best results!

  14. Thank you for the response! That helps. I’m going to try again in a few days when my schedule allows. I know I can do this. lol Yes, I do have a scale. Bought one several years ago, and it has made ALL the difference. Have a wonderful day!

  15. I mixed my dough at 9am and it’s 5pm and it still hasn’t doubled. My house is 74 degrees. Why isn’t it rising? My stiff levain was more than tripled and my starter has provided me with plenty of super tall fluffy breads in the last few days. I’m not sure why my challah dough isn’t rising. I made this recipe once with a success so I’m not sure why it’s not working today. Should I just give it more time? What is the longest amount of time I should let it do this first rise? Should I try putting it in the oven in the proof setting for more heat?

    1. Hi! It’s hard to say for certain but my best guess is that the dough is too cold. If it has risen a bit I would probably go ahead and shape it and move it to a nice warm place for proofing. Hope that helps!

  16. Amazing recipe! I’m an Italian wanting to learn how to make challah for my jewish in laws. I did the opposite and let the loaf prove during the day in the sun, it seemed to make it more puffy.

        1. Ty. I have my sourdough starter but still wanted clarification on what stiff levain referred to. I don’t see that in recipe

          1. You use your 100% hydration starter to make the stiff starter. The instructions are in italics right under the ingredients for the stiff starter.

  17. Hi Ruth,

    I absolutely love reading your recipes. I haven’t tried my hand at baking bread but wanted to start with something. I’m not sure that this is the right recipe to start with but I’m going to give it a go. I’m wondering whether you could recommend a sourdough starter recipe? I see that you have listed it as an ingredient under your stiff levain and wouls welcome any tips your could give. Thanks again!

  18. Lovely bread! Thank you for your easy to follow instructions! I had a hard time stretching/ rolling / shaping but I just gave the gluten time to stretch and eventually I got the dough to 21”. I only had King Aurthur AP so that’s what I used. Also I used a thermometer and a timer and did tent my bread at 15 minutes as I did not want a dark crust. My thermometer made it to 190 at 25 min. Thank you so much. I look forward to trying more of your recipes!

  19. Looks beautiful, but so dry. I used only all purpose unbleached flour. Second time, I took out of oven after 28 minutes to see if that was the issue, still dry. (200 degrees internal temp) I tried another recipe with only AP flour and it was a nice texture. Suggestions?

    1. Perhaps your oven runs a bit warm; do you have an oven thermometer?

      All brands of flour absorb liquid differently, so another possibility is that your flour is very absorbent. You can always try adding a little more water to see if that makes a difference.

      1. Thanks for getting back to me. Yes! We have a thermometer and I did check that. It’s accurate. I think I will add more water. How much more? Does the oil type/ quantity also make a difference? Also, the stiff Levain is very dry and crumbly is it supposed to be?

        1. The stiff starter should feel like a stiff bread dough with no dry patches of flour. If it’s crumbly you may need to knead it a bit more to better distribute the water.

          Oil type shouldn’t make a difference. Yes, increasing the oil can also increase the softness of the dough.

          With all the increases I would just start small, 1 Tbsp at a time, and knead it in thoroughly before adding any more. If the dough is too wet it will make shaping difficult.

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